A plodding, spooky story

‘Four Rubbings’ – Jennifer Hotes


Four Rubbings - Jennifer Hotes

Four Rubbings – Jennifer Hotes

Halloween. The night the barrier between the dead and the living is as thin as muslin. Fourteen-year old Josie, haunted by the death of her mother, leads her best friends to an ancient cemetery to rub graves. Convinced she will come away with proof of her mother’s spirit at last, the evening takes an unexpected turn as the teens gravitate four ways into the haunted grounds. Set against the backdrop of the rainy Pacific Northwest, four graves will be rubbed, touching off a series of events that will rattle their once mundane lives. From the lonely World War II hero to an accused witch, the people buried beneath the stones have stories that need an ending. The journey to unravel the mysteries leaves the friends wondering if the graves would’ve been better off left alone.

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About the author:

Jennifer Hotes

Raised across the river from the Hanford Nuclear Reactor, Jennifer grew up looking at the world a little differently. Now she uses her unique perspective and glow-in-the-dark countenance to write Young Adult novels and illustrate for talented authors, preferably with a cat on her lap or dog at her feet. She blogs to teens because she feels the world-at-large gives them a bad shake. Her latest blog is all about finals week and how best to cope/endure.

Mrs. Hotes loves living in rainy Seattle, volunteering in her children’s schools and raising funds for Providence Hospice of Seattle. Her first novel, ‘Four Rubbings’, is out now.

She is a member of SCBWI, society of children’s book writers & illustrators and is currently painting a group of ageing  men posed in an old red truck for a book cover.

Author links:

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I found the novel ‘Four Rubbings’ different to other teenage fiction that I have read. This is a spooky story, (probably best read around Halloween!) and follows the lives of four teenagers who try to find out more about the gravestone they have, quite literally, taken a pencil rubbing from. However, the teenagers have a lot more on their plate than just finding out about the graves and this takes the form of how all of them live in dysfunctional families. As such, I found parts of it quite sad that the teenagers could not find acceptance and had more responsibilities on their shoulders than kids their age should.

The novel switches between all four teenagers so readers are always able to keep up with the mystery that each character is unravelling. At the same time, it was refreshing to read about their different interpretations on events, and, more in the second half of the novel, their changing feelings towards one another. However, at times I did find that Hotes got a little distracted by the family issues that were within each story and this certainly slowed the pace of the story for me.

Each of the lives that the characters investigate are really different. Hotes cleverly makes links to the family life that the teenagers are living with and I found myself always trying to make parallels between the two. I would have liked to read more about Seth and Blaze’s mysteries and I think these take more of a back-seat; Hotes instead brings their family life to the foreground and how this changes over the course of the novel. The truly spooky element lies with Josie, who is still mourning for her mother and the secrets she uncovers about her life, whilst at the same time learning more about her “rubbing”: the grave of a suspected witch. Josie’s actions at trying to find answers make this novel read more like a mystery and I found the climax more chilling than the rest of the story. Indeed, Hotes certainly sets the novel up for a sequel very well and I was keen to know what happens next in the story.

I enjoyed reading this novel and was keen to find out the answers to all of the little mysteries that built up in the story. I was hoping this book would have more pace and excitement, but instead this is more about feelings rather than actions. I think this would probably appeal to teenagers who specifically enjoy reading spooky stories with a good mystery but would recommend it to all as a young adult novel that is a little bit different from the rest.

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Excerpt from the novel:

WHY DO PEOPLE have to mess with the dead on Halloween anyway? They’re dead. Respect the dead. Didn’t their folks teach them any better? I squint into the distance at a cluster of folks standing inside the cemetery gates.

“I’ll scare them good and give them a piece of my mind along the way,” I mumble as I stomp the three hundred or so yards it takes to reach the cemetery entrance from my caretaker’s cottage. Can’t help but think if I had just done my job in the first place, I wouldn’t be standing knee-deep in a pile of trouble right now.

Not five minutes ago I’d stood staring out the kitchen window watching a dull, dreary day change into something better. Leafless gray trees framed an orange and white fireball sky, framed it like iron gates, and that is when I’d remembered. Damn, Grace.

Ten years of watching over Lakefront Cemetery and tonight of all nights I’d forgotten to lock the gates. My forty-year-old bones felt soggy from a day of rain-chilled grave tending. Clearly, I was thinking more about a hot bath and a cup of warm cider than doing my job. Ah, well. With an hour before sunset, I’d figured I had plenty of time to put things right.

I’d found my mud-caked work boots and damp flannel coat piled on the back porch where I’d shed them an hour ago. As I shoehorned my boots onto bare feet, I’d spotted a group gathering at the cemetery entrance. I checked my watch. Five o’clock seemed awful early to start Halloween trouble, but there they were. I made out four bodies, four or five. Couldn’t tell for certain without my glasses, and I wasn’t willing to trudge back through the cottage with muddy boots to collect them up. I’d know soon enough.

As I stomp across the grounds, I rehearse what I will say. I’ll give them a lecture about respecting the dead, then shoo them off speedy quick. All worked up, I don’t pay no mind to the noise my boots make as I dodge headstones and thunder through wet leaves and mud. I want them to hear me coming and be afraid. Too bad I don’t have time to go back for my hefty flashlight, or better yet, a rusty shovel, to shake at them. Boy, the stories they could tell their friends tomorrow about the crazy cemetery lady and her wicked shovel.

“You’ll all think twice about coming around here again after I get through with you,” I spit into the wind.

As I near, I see they’re decked out in costumes. I count four of them, teenagers, of course. It’s mostly the teens that make trouble around here. I duck behind the Yessir’s family tomb to get a better look. “Sorry if I’m blocking your view, folks,” I whisper.

I steal quick peeks around the white marble structure and make out an oversized superhero, a football player, Pocahontas and some kind of dapper fella.

Pocahontas, a tiny copper-headed girl, is giving them instructions. I can’t hear everything she says, but catch phrases like, “Let a stone call you…. open your heart…. connect with the person buried underneath…”

She doesn’t sound like my typical vandal rat; I give her that much credit. I rub my chest where a knot has formed and lean in closer to catch the gist of her words.

The girl reaches into a tan leather pouch and hands around oversized pieces of paper and chunks of black chalk, not the toilet paper and spray paint I expect to see. Art supplies. My knees give out as the truth dawns on me. They’ve come to rub the stones. They’ve come to remember the dead, not hurt ‘em.

The breath I didn’t know I’d been holding bursts from my mouth. My eyes cloud over. My calloused hands ball into sweaty fists and shake. My cheeks burn with shame. I’ve been wrong about these kids, pegged them as vandals when they are bent on doing something good. I fall apart, but gather it all up again quick. I am wrong and have to atone. Good thing I’m already down on my knees.

It’s been so long since I’ve said any kind of prayer. Too long. I’m clumsy about how best to place my hands, how far to bow my head, and how to muster the words. But I close my eyes, and feel warm tears roll down my cheeks. I send a prayer up to the God I’ve been cursing for the past decade.

“Let them have a journey, Lord, a journey that begins with remembering the dead and rubbing a stone. Amen.”

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